Following a prolonged pandemic interruption, Culpeper neighbors are invited to gather Thursday night for education and community socialization at the first in-person meeting in 17 months of the Town Police Department Combined Neighborhood Watch Group.
The program will start at 6:30 p.m. July 22 in the worship center at Culpeper Baptist Church with the presentation of the year’s first Amazing Citizen Award to Ashley Carter, director of special projects and strategic initiatives at UVA Culpeper Medical Center.
Anyone can submit a nomination to the police department for the recognition of those going above and beyond in service to the community.
Thursday’s meeting will continue at 7 p.m. with a timely presentation by Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Director Jim LaGraffe about accessing mental health and substance abuse services in the Culpeper area.
Folks can also watch on Facebook Live from the Culpeper PD page.
A question and answer session will follow LaGraffe’s presentation; submit questions in advance to JCole@culpeperva.gov, ask in person or post in the comments section on Facebook.
For the in-person audience there will be light refreshments and door prizes, according to Sgt. Tony Caruso, coordinator of Culpeper Combined Neighborhood Watch. It’s an ever growing community safety and outreach program currently representing 25 neighborhoods and six businesses in town.
For community police officers, work continued throughout COVID-19 in the town of Culpeper. Each officer is assigned a Neighborhood Watch area they visit as part of regular daily patrols.
In some areas, the community contact was bascially emails and phone calls the past year-and-half, noted Lt. Ashley Banks.
“A lot of them have been on pause … the majority are ready to get back,” he said of Combined Neighborhood Watch. “It’s time to get back to some sort of normalcy—just to go out and talk to people face to face instead of talking on Zoom.
“I’m tired of it—I had one this morning where I’m dying to get back in person,” Banks said.
Neighborhood Watch is effective in connecting law enforcement with the community, said Caruso, who started with the department in 2009 in parking enforcement.
“The neighborhoods get the face of that same officer, have that comfort,” he said.
Neighbors will communicate with other neighbors and the police when something seems off, Caruso said. They’ve solved vandalism cases with the posting of camera feeds to Neighborhood Watch social media pages, he said.
Being able to meet in person this week as a combined group will provide a connection to the whole community, added Officer Mike Grant, also in community policing.
“Everybody comes, gives you that opportunity to talk to everybody,” he said. “We’re excited for it to start coming back around.”
Neighborhood issues and criminal activity in the town of Culpeper remained the same during the pandemic, noted Banks.
“Coming out of the pandemic, just expectations of what people were used to or how things have changed,” he said. “That’s why our guest speaker is going to be talking about mental health services—could people access the mental health services they really needed during the pandemic?
“The self-isolation, of being home, not going out, not being able to see people. Now that everything is starting to come back up it’s almost like people have to relearn certain things,” Banks said. “For neighborhoods, getting out more and talking to your neighbors.”
Calls for service to the Culpeper PD totaled 15,067 in 2020 compared to 15,134 in 2019, according to monthly activity reports to the Town Council Public Safety Committee. There were two homicides in town in 2020 and 21 aggravated assaults-compared to 13 in 2019. There were 309 domestic calls in 2020 compared to 321 in 2019, according to data.
Culpeper PD community officers also participated in around 50 birthday parades during COVID, driving by with their lights and sirens on along with firetrucks and local rescue squads, at a time when children couldn’t get together for parties.
Seeing law enforcement in that light builds bonds, Banks noted.
“It’s that connection with the officers,” he said. “Most people’s only encounter with a police officer is one of the worst days of their lives. With neighborhood watch, they always see officers in the neighborhood handing out stickers, talking to kids, playing ball and it just builds that good rapport with citizens and the police department.”